What Butler's 2-year expedition means in the greater scope
College Basketball Contributing Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
If Monday night was a play on morality, the heroine's squeaky clean image had the world watching, and rooting, for good to overcome what collectively has been a perpetuated domino effect of evil across collegiate athletics.
Fans weren't necessarily posting a Scarlet Letter on the chest of the Connecticut basketball program, although its admitted mistakes are part of a larger problem, but were rather intrinsically drawn to the virtue of Brad Stevens' kids, relating to the little man's plight in a game ruled by power and prestige.
Yet, the orange ball and tight Reliant Stadium rims held no prejudice, understood no backstory, and took no prisoners. Monday night's national championship game was played on a 94x50 slab of hardwood that felt so much smaller to the undersized Bulldogs, who didn't dare attack Connecticut's supreme size, instead settling time and again for contested shots that didn't fall.
"We kept telling ourselves, 'Keep shooting, shots are going to go in.' It just wasn't happening," Butler forward Matt Howard said. And in an environment where emotional management is a must, missed shots start playing psychological games, as one brick stacks on top of another, on top of another.
The Bulldogs missed plenty of tough shots, bothered by Connecticut's length, yet also short-armed easy opportunities during a seven-minute scoreless stretch in the second half that doomed their fate. A six-point lead in the early seconds of the second half turned into a double-digit deficit that felt like so much more when in the throws of a championship game-worst 18 percent shooting night.
As Stevens summed it up, "I thought we got some good looks. We missed quite a few."
By "a few," he actually meant nearly all of them, misfiring on 20-of-21 at one point and making just one two-point basket in the first half, yet somehow holding a 22-19 edge. Despite leading after 20 minutes, it never felt like the Bulldogs could overcome Connecticut's superior physical advantage without making their share of shots, and then those already suspect shooting numbers cascaded in a manner only seen in recessions.
In the raw emotion of the postgame press conferences, Stevens didn't even want to discuss "history" and Butler's place in it. He was more worried about the seniors who just played their last game and the relationships forged through two improbable (really, think about what Butler has accomplished) journeys.
Instead of talking in strictly basketball terms, Stevens extended the scope of his players' lasting impact, highlighting the program's belief in not just recruiting hoops heroes, but well-rounded individuals.
"As far as the legacy goes, they're just good guys. You know, I mean, they're good students. People at Butler really like them, not because they're basketball players, because they're just good guys. And they treat people right and they're engaging and smart. They're going to be very successful," Stevens said. "You know, I was talking about all the opportunities they've already had and all the opportunities they will have. Some of it will be a result of basketball as far as people will know of them, but the way that they conduct themselves and what they take from this experience, it's hard to put into words right now. I think it's what it's all about."
Now, compare that to the investigation involving improper benefits to former UConn recruit Nate Miles; the seemingly never-ending list of violations that cost Tennessee's Bruce Pearl his job; reports that multiple Auburn football players took gifts during the recruiting process; Fiesta Bowl CEO John Junker's mind-boggling decision to expense his $33,000 birthday party; the mess surrounding former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton; and the list goes on.
It is true that Butler has a special place in historical lure for its on-court contributions, making consecutive championship games, the latter as an eight seed, and joining the ranks of Michigan State, Florida, Duke, Arkansas and more as back-to-back Final Four participants. Yet, its true mark may be left in its definition of student athletes in a climate that focuses on the bottom line more often than a program's place as institutional standard bearers.
I don't think Stevens even owns a broom. There are no secrets to sweep, no skipping steps and skirting bylaws. It's simplistic to say Butler does things the right way, especially when the right way is blurred by outside forces and inside pressures, but it holds true.
Butler didn't win the national championship Monday night, but when time heals the wounds, Stevens and his players will realize that play on morality ended with victory, even if not with basketball's "One Shining Moment."
WHAT TO MAKE OF COACHING CAROSUEL
Erroneous tweets, media mea culpas, meetings and mismanagement occurred all while (still) Purdue head coach Matt Painter was on a family vacation in Florida. Yes, Painter did meet with Missouri athletic director Mike Alden and was provided a rough sketch of a financial windfall (in comparative terms to his Purdue contract) that awaited him if he made the jump from the Big Ten powerhouse he had built to a fringe top tier Big 12 program.
Missouri is more than competitive nationally and planned on returning multiple key contributors from last season's high-ceiling, low-productivity outfit, and several highly-respected writers tweeted and used online real estate to annunciate Painter's decision to make the jump, citing monetary factors and a strained relationship with Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke.
Those 140-word reports turned out to be patently false, as Painter announced his decision to stay in West Lafayette last Wednesday with, "At the end of the day, my heart is at Purdue." So is his bank account, which will reportedly expand by at least $1 million annually in guaranteed money. He also didn't need to uproot his family and can stay at a place close to his heart as a former player and assistant under Gene Keady.
After being spurned and leveraged by Painter, Missouri turned to Frank Haith, a coach with Big 12 roots as an assistant at Texas and Texas A&M. As a head coach, Haith finished his seven years at Miami with a 129-101 record that is far more hollow when dissecting the numbers. He made just one NCAA Tournament, missed the postseason altogether twice and never excelled in conference play, finishing with a 43-69 mark. Coincidentally or not, his hiring came on the day that juniors Kim English and Laurence Bowers declared for the NBA Draft, although neither hired an agent. If both bolt, Haith will have to replace over 21 points per game and focal points on the perimeter and the block.
The Missouri job initially came open when Mike Anderson finally couldn't resist the temptation of going home. Anderson served as Nolan Richardson's right-hand man, helping cultivate the "40 minutes of hell" for 17 years, the last five as assistant head coach. He also played two years for Richardson at Tulsa as a junior college transfer, and with the bad blood between Arkansas' iconic former coach and the university now just a historical notation, Anderson finally decided the time had come. He returned Missouri to respectability after Quin Snyder's tarnished tenure with dogged recruiting and three straight trips to the NCAA Tournament, including an Elite Eight appearance in 2009. Anderson will have power as a former "Hog" at a school proud of its hoops history surrounding a fan base starving for a winner.
Other coaching moves included Dayton's Brian Gregory replacing Paul Hewitt at Georgia Tech -- a head-scratching move for a former ACC power that found Hewitt's successor in a head coach who never made the Sweet 16 and led the Flyers to just two NCAA Tournament berths in eight seasons; Missouri State's Cuonzo Martin taking over a Tennessee program in the throes of NCAA penalty thanks to the now-terminated Pearl; and Lon Kruger, now onto his sixth college and seventh total head coaching job, replacing Jeff Capel, who couldn't replicate the success without Blake Griffin at Oklahoma.
A coach who stayed put made the best move. Following the lead of Stevens after his (first) fairy tale ride to the Final Four, VCU's Shaka Smart decided to hang around, spurning overtures from North Carolina State to continue to cultivate what he has built in Richmond. He received a hefty raise, some circles reporting a new base pay that quadruples his former salary, and the praise that comes from turning down one of the power programs to stay at a mid-major school.
Smart went from relative obscurity, known as a "nice" young coach with upside, to the college coaching meat market's filet mignon, the prized commodity left to covet. He could have cashed in on his lightning-fast rise to stardom, but instead went with job security and a bump in benefits.
"True to form, Coach Smart's primary concerns were about his players, coaches and the overall support of the basketball program," said VCU athletic director Norwood Teague in a statement. "We are honored that he has decided to stay a VCU Ram."
And that honor resulted in a sparkling new eight-year deal.
Trexler is the author of "99 Things You Wish You Knew Before...Filling Out
Your Hoops Bracket." Click
HERE to purchase the Kindle version...and stay tuned on
an updated hardcopy edition this winter! Trexler also wrote "Penn State
Football: An Interactive Guide To The World of Sports", a detailed look at the
Nittany Lions' storied football history. It can be purchased HERE.